Social Gaming May Kill Traditional MMORPGs


The majority of the subscribers I have on my YouTube channel subscribed because of my Warhammer Online (WAR) videos. People frequently ask if / when I will come back to WAR. The answer is never, because of reasons beyond WAR itself.

EA is shifting its focus in online gaming to the social gaming sector with its acquisition of Playfish in late 2009. Around the time of the acquisition, EA laid off 40% of the staff at Mythic Entertainment, the studio that created WAR. Those layoffs have obvious implications in terms of what Mythic can do with WAR moving forward. Fewer resources = less new game content and game improvements.

It’s a shame, because WAR has gradually improved as a game, and some players think that if it had launched in its current state, WAR would have been a success instead of a colossal failure. I shared that viewpoint when I played WAR’s excellent Patch 1.3b over the summer.

That being said, I don’t think that the EA/Mythic/Playfish case is an isolated incident that had its roots strictly in the failure of WAR as a game. Rather, it’s an indicator of the shift in the online gaming industry towards social gaming. Social gaming has been experiencing wildfire growth because of potent, synergistic drivers:

  • the cost to launch, maintain, and evolve social games is (relatively) low
  • social game developers leverage analytics to customize games very quickly based on what users are actually doing. It’s a very “Agile” approach to game development – instead of massive investment up-front, you start with something and evolve it based on user behavior and feedback
  • social gaming has a huge and growing potential player base (thanks to Facebook), and the corresponding strong viral network effects
  • social games have user-friendly (i.e. simple) game mechanics. Social games in the online gaming market is analogous to the Wii in the console market – anyone can play them, and that’s how they suck you in

Contrast that with MMORPGs, which have traditionally cost a lot of money (e.g. tens of  millions of US dollars) to develop and launch and have a (relatively) steep learning curve for players.

A guy I know, who was the CEO of the company that launched a best-selling console game, told me he thinks the console gaming sector is in jeopardy. Social gaming is where it’s at, from a business perspective. And I think that the MMORPG sector, as we currently think of it (WoW, Aion, Eve Online, etc), may be in trouble for the same reason, over the medium- to long-term.

I’m a fan of traditional MMORPGs, because they provide the kind of rich and complex environment that I find challenging – especially in terms of PVP. So I hope that the market for traditional MMORPGs continues to grow, to sustain the economic drivers which enable game development and evolution. If MMORPGs become a niche market over time, there will be fewer options for us to choose from.

 

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Posted in Business Analysis, Warhammer Online
15 comments on “Social Gaming May Kill Traditional MMORPGs
  1. Skutrug says:

    Bah,
    The same was said when console games first appeared: PC gaming is dead… everything will be consoles.
    It has not happened – Social games will do the same: they appeal to a certain population of gamers, not all. Sure it is cheap to make Farmville… so we will see a lot of Farmvill/Mafia War clones, and they will fight for their audience. There is still a large potential for good MMOs, not the one that were released in 2009 … WAR, AION, Champion… honestly were a black eye in the face of their customers. Yes, the gaming market will become more fragmented, and the audience more demanding… Sooo we will get better games, I am all for it!
    EA wants to go into social gaming… they have my blessing to go sc### up that segment of the gaming community…

    • taugrim says:

      Bah,
      The same was said when console games first appeared: PC gaming is dead… everything will be consoles.

      Valid point, but PC games have always had the advantages of being connected to the Internet and having a keyboard, so the degree of remote interaction between players has always been higher for PC games than console games.

      However, social games have those same advantages as well.

      There is still a large potential for good MMOs, not the one that were released in 2009 … WAR, AION, Champion… honestly were a black eye in the face of their customers

      Aion could be very good with some mechanics changes. I’m in the camp that the leveling pace is much too slow. The game needs more content too, but IMO, if there is enough PVP action at end-game, I’ll enjoy it.

      EA wants to go into social gaming… they have my blessing to go sc### up that segment of the gaming community…

      It’s interesting to see the negative impact that larger game companies have had on games developed by studio properties (e.g. EA with WAR, Sony with SWG).

      • Namaste says:

        In Aion the grind doesn’t bother me. But the lack of constant pvp is killing it for me. It’s too much of a chore to find players to fight in the Abyss. Rifting level 45+ is usually bots or low rank players trying to level up. With flight there are no real choke points since anyone can fly anywhere in the Abyss. Like in WAR where you could take a small group or run solo and setup at some choke point and kill players running to forts, etc…

        So it’s getting very hard to login anymore. Now waiting for game with more pvp.

        • taugrim says:

          That’s discouraging to hear.

          The Abyss is much larger than I would have expected, and from a game design perspective, that’s an issue.

          Chanter doesn’t hit its stride for PVP until 42 and 45, so I’m basically skipping rifting to get to 42 as fast as possible. So I won’t have the perspective that you do in terms of comparing PVP up to 40 vs PVP above 40.

          But if small-scale fighting in the Abyss is difficult to find, I will be disappointed.

          There aren’t any games on the horizon that pique my curiosity.

          • Namaste says:

            The Abyss was better for a few weeks when the game was first out. Way more players. But it seems it was designed as a level 25-40 zone for the quests and fort seiges are only about once a day, maybe.

            Only games I am looking at aren’t out for a while. Guild Wars 2 and TERA kinda looks interesting. But Guild Wars easily had the most balanced pvp ever. You can max level in a day and start pvp right away. It was impossible to zerg there. Always even fights.

  2. Oozo says:

    I can see the social games drawing off the more casual PvE type of players, but there will always be a strong market for PvPers. And, oddly enough having those who have no interest in PvP leave the MMO market could be a positive change for those who enjoy PvP.

    I’m not saying that as some kind of elitist. I just don’t think you can argue that certain mechanics which would be good for PvPers is often times not implemented for the sake of holding on to those who are more into character advancement via gear.

    • taugrim says:

      That may be the case.

      My main concern is that game developers will pursue the most profitable markets, and this may leave us PVPer’s with fewer game options.

      I’d be curious to hear what folks in the gaming industry think. If you’re a game developer and read this article, share with us your 2 cents!

      • Oozo says:

        I think you are right that there will be less options. The number of “failed” games is piling up rather quickly and that has to have an effect on investors.

        Less options doesn’t mean there won’t be good options, hopefully. Investors will probably play it safe with MMOs and just go with strong licenses.

        Star Wars: The Old Republic, I’m looking at you.

  3. Sto says:

    The continuing trend towards online social communities has me more and more confused. Facebook, twitter, and video games have all taken huge steps towards keeping us connected at all times to as many people and as much information as possible.It makes me wonder where our society is going.

    These forms of media have a huge impact on culture, yet I don’t get the feeling that those impacts are really taken into account outside of a marketing perspective.

    (To get off topic; part of me wonders if perhaps drone usage in the military will continue to be such a huge success partly due to us [“us” meaning those impacted by aforementioned media, which is quite a massive crowd globally] being in part desensitized by online games, online social communities and cell phones/texting etc. I don’t know how significant the affects are, but it’s something I think should be looked into.)

    Now to get back on topic… I think I agree with the position that more accessible socially-based games will be vastly more invested in than a traditional MMO. With each generation it seems that the demand for instantaneous gratification gradually gets closer to 1. However, I don’t think the market for a traditional-style MMO will completely dry up for some time, if at all.

    • taugrim says:

      Facebook, twitter, and video games have all taken huge steps towards keeping us connected at all times to as many people and as much information as possible.It makes me wonder where our society is going.

      Indeed.

      One of the most interesting phenomenon about the whole social media thing is how much personal information people share so freely now, without much if any control over who sees the content.

      However, I don’t think the market for a traditional-style MMO will completely dry up for some time, if at all

      I hope that ends up being the case!

      drone usage in the military will continue to be such a huge success partly due to us… being in part desensitized by online games

      That is an interesting point. Drone footage does have an eerie disconnectedness – it looks more like game footage than reality.

  4. Randy says:

    Great article! MMO developers really need to look at what the social gaming guys are doing in order to stay competitive with their games. MMO games are becoming very generic and grindish. Here’s a good read about the subject http://mmoabc.com/news/what-mmo-mmorpg-games-can-learn-social-network-games.

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